tv Tavis Smiley PBS July 22, 2011 12:35am-1:00am EDT
let me start in an unlikely place. i want to celebrate the work you have done with this young brother. this raises the question of why it is that white folk feel this super hero complex that they can swoop down into black neighborhoods or hispanic neighborhoods and their very presence and engagement can save and turnaround -- we see this and hollywood movies. what is that complex all about? >> i will not run away from it. i was raised in it. i was a comic book fanatic when i was growing up. i grew up in an abusive household. you can react to that in many ways and i reacted to it in a way that made me fight against on fairness. i reached adolescence, turned into a teenager, by the time was a teenager i looked at the way the american system was structured, the way that cities are operating and how large
pieces of the population have been left behind. it was pretty logical for a kid with that kind of upgrading -- upbringing to say, i will see what i can do to help out. i am not a savior but a culture allow you to think you could make a difference. tavis: you are very open and honest about talking about that in the text. there is an authenticity that i celebrate. tell me about this young brother that you met when you work 20 and he was 7. >> a friend of mine was running a homeless shelter. it was the height of the reagan revolution. they were cutting programs left and right. what we are about to see here in the u.s. because of this budget deficit. in comes these two kids. we started hanging around, laughing, plane. i started taking them to the
library, fishing. start of an evolving into a relationship. eventually they can live with me. their mother was going from shelter to shelter. they were living out of hefty bags. i formed the bond that lasted a lifetime. tavis: let me go back to something you said a moment ago. you said, this is about to happen again given the talk about deficit reduction. dr. west and i were on cnn announcing a poverty to that we are about to embark on to raise this issue on the agenda. politicians do not even want to utter the word poverty much less do anything about it. in this talk about deficit reduction, the one thing they're not leveling with people about is that this most often means less jobs. this is not mean an increase. this means that you are cutting programs. is about to get worse long before it gets better.
why is that part of the conversation? >> the timing of your trip could not be more for to it is because my fear with this bomb that exploded, the most vulnerable populations will get hammered and opportunities will close. programs for kids that are on the edge in the school systems around the country. they will not have the opportunities anymore. if you oppress rather than on what the potential, what will that do to our economy? that will contract, not expand. we will do all kinds of things in a deficit cutting fervor that will help -- hurt our combativeness -- we will do all kinds of things in the deficit-cutting that will hurt our competitiveness. tavis: what does this mean for the michaels of the world? >> i am concerned about what
will happen with school budgets and particularly after school programs for kids. that is why both of us have a zealous terror and support of mentoring and tutoring. -- that is why both of us have a zealous tear. it turns out all the studies show that you invest a little time in another person's life, often a young person, and all of us have the capacity to do it, and you will have tremendous differences in a kid's life over a lifetime. >> you were 20, michael was 7, you were white, he is black. around what issues did you bond? >> sports, fishing. he had not learned how to read. he was left behind by the school system. i was having a second shot and a childhood.
we really became brothers as opposed to big brother, little brother just hanging around and doing stuff. we have never really thought about the racial element as something that was anything but a binder. tavis: it was not just a relationship between you and michael but you ended up bringing on -- let me put it this way, his immediate family ended up being your extended family. they came to live with you at a certain point. >> a year after i met him, social services was considering taking the kids away from their mom. there was all kinds of abuse. what i did is that i took the three oldest children and they came and live with me in an apartment in south philadelphia for the summer. i don't know how to cook or do anything. it was chaos. i don't know if it was worse or better for them. tavis: [laughter]
it might have been worse. >> they remember the smallest details. we all pitched in to get there. it was no big brother, little brother, we were all the managers of that apartment. her mom finally got her act together and got into subsidized housing. that was the end for michael. i went after africa doing the kind of work we have talked about and i abandoned them. i lost them for a while. the school system abandoned them and he essentially started working in the drug trade. tavis: tell me what happened when you lost touch? >> for a while, he was weighing the options and the school system abandoned them. the structure was there. there was no mail in the hospital -- in the school system. -- there was no male in the
school system. he would get ridiculed the. you start with one step, two steps, three steps, and then he was a big-time drug dealer. his best friend got his face shot off in front of him. the soul-destroying things that happened to him. tavis: he is married now with family, i know that because you wrote this book together. this is written in alternate voices in the first person. this is a question of how he got out of the drug game. some people get in and never get out. when they do come out, they come out in a body bag. >> he did have choices. he was afraid. he thought he would end up coming out of this in a body bag
or life in prison like some of his friends are. he had some choices to make. he met his present wife and she was a tremendously positive influence on him. he had ortiz said -- he had already had a son or two. we started talking again. he makes the decision, i think i can get out of this and he did it. he took some menial jobs, a humiliating to him. essentially, he takes a step up and he works his way up and now he is a bus driver and he has is commercial driver's license and he has dreams of owning his own company. tavis: i pressed you about this relationship. the flip side is that what you have really done here is to revel in, to celebrate, to
authenticate his humanity. what do you take away from that? >> when you reach out to someone regardless of what the situation, if you are a teacher, a parent, a big brother, a mentor, and you validate that person through loving them and caring about them, especially when they are in a difficult situation, they don't know if anyone's values them. that is self-esteem. the effect that has on a kid, their self-esteem is validated. your impact is immeasurable. i think that anyone can do it. we all fear that we're going to let the kid down. it turns out if you put a little time investing in that relationship, it can have a profound impact. tavis: i have a friend who says we are who we are because somebody loved us. i am glad that you loved
michael. this is a very good book, it is called "unlikely brothers: our story of adventure, loss, and redemption." thank you for coming on the show. up next, a talented young singer-songwriter nikki jean. she has partnered with carol kane, bob dylan, and burt bacharach. -- she has partnered with carol king. hasn't know what nikki jean planned for her second cd but here is the lineup on her second debut. carlys lamont dozier, simon, bob dylan, to name a few. >> good to be here.
tavis: it is amazing to me to sit across from someone you have seen and heard, read about, collaborated with everyone. you have been on tour with a bunch of artist we all know from lupe to kanye. when you are working with that many artists, what is the process for getting your own project out and how patient do you have to be? >> i have had to be very patient. the challenge for me was after my initial success with lupe fiasco. i was interested in doing an r&b record. i probably could have gotten that moving pretty fast but i had always been a songwriter. i wanted to do something really true to who i am in my musical love and identity and that took
longer. luckily, the idea to work with all these people came along and allowed me to fill that vision. >> how does one end up on an album with bob dylan, burt bacharach, carol king? there is no way that you can be working with the caliber of people. >> it is funny. people ask what i'd do, i say i'm a songwriter. they say, i hope that works out. they say, this girl is delusional. i am very fortunate to have not only a great producer who had worked with carol king before. you should work with the songwriters. i said, they will not work with me. he said, they will work with you. he reached out to ms. kane --
king and he reached out to my publisher. she laid it all out there and she called everyone and she asked them to give me a shot. >> what is it about your style that you think makes them even open to wanting to work with you in terms of writing? >> i think two things, one is that i have a lot of genuine respect and i have studied their work, not just their personal work, but the work that there can in is from. i know the songwriters of the 1960's. i can hopefully speak with them on a level where they understand that i have done my homework and then i can get in a room with them and really be able to produce feel good about. if they are legendary, of course, you have to be humble and you have to be honest and push your own creative vision and who you are.
at the end of the day, my name is on the album and i have to sing it when we go to the show. tavis: in a minute, people get a chance to hear you sing. how would you describe your style? >> i would call it a classic american pop music. this is pop music. carol king is pop music, lamont dozier is pop music. this is nostalgic pop. tavis: when you come out of this strong on your project, where do you go from here? do you put pressure on yourself with a debut like this? >> we always strive for excellence. michael and aspiration is for the next album to be equally excellent. -- my goal and aspiration is for the next album to be equally excellent. hopefully i will collaborate with some other people, not
necessarily from this classic john rau of pop writing. -- genre of pop writing. tavis: what influences you? >> something that is a pocket if. a great song will have melody, it will have licked. -- something that is provocative. if it does not mean something to the people when they hear it, then it is ultimately a failure. tavis: what was happening in your developmental years, the times that you brought in, what you're listening to. how did that influence the artist that you are? >> i am from minnesota. i grew up listening to not only pop music in minnesota and prince and the time, i was also
going to south dakota and hearing a lot of country music. we did not have television in my house. we had a piano that had 200 scrolls that ranged from the early 1940's all the way. i learned a lot of old songs that way. my mother took a really high value on being able to educate yourself and learn things. it was a great place to grow up. tavis: when did you know that this was recalling that he would spend your life doing? >> i fell in love with songwriting when i was 5. tavis: i would call that an early start. >> i was watching a celebration on television. tavis: not sesame street. >> we were at my stepfather's house and we were watching irvin berlin. willie nelson was singing "blue
skies," and natalie cole was singing "summertime," it was just magical. it was a huge production. you would never see somebody like that now. these songs are so fresh and brand new. -- you would never see songwriting like that now. he is with the best job, he is like the wizard of oz. a good song becomes your friend. when you are sad, you sing a song, when you are happy, you sing a song. to create a comfort for people is too good to pass up. tavis: so you were taken from that point? >> i was hooked. every time i tried to put it down, i had to put it back up. tavis: when you know at 5 that
this is what you want to do and you are working with a litany of other people, you get to this point where you put your own project out. tell me again about the patients it requires on that journey to get to that place. i asked because there are many people watching who in a variety of fields and human endeavors are in the same space, trying to get to that point where they get their own moment and your message to them is -- >> patience is one thing but the other thing is the determination and there will be a million people that say no. it only takes that one person to say yes. the most important person to say yes is yourself. everyone was telling me that this isn't going to work. i always felt that they were wrong and that they were right -- and that i was right. if you believe, this is important, this is good, it deserves a chance, this is who i
am, then you cannot abandon it. tavis: bob dylan says it is good. that is about all you need, really. then burt bacharach, lamont dozier says it is. i will let you decide that for yourself. in just a moment, a special performance from nikki jean. thank you for coming. >> it was a pleasure. tavis: from her debut cd "pennies in a jar," here is nikki jean. enjoy. good night from los angeles and keep the faith. ♪ ♪ >> ♪ the sun will rise through
the tears in my eyes those rainbows will only be like a prison to me through the white light, through the prison i am free i am with you i am who i want to be what you do for me is why i am giving you my love nothing but the best for you i am giving you my love nothing less, my soul is true when i lay me down to sleep, i pray my love, tell me what you are going to do
for get the penny, feed the fountain of dimes. imagine you were here i will cry when you say goodbye. make it real don't you know it makes me feel that is why i am giving you my love nothing but the best for you that is why i'm giving you my love nothing less, you know it's true when i lay me down to sleep, i pray
my love, tell me what you are going to do my love tell me what you are going to do with my love wooo, ooo, ooo, ooo, ooo ♪ [applause] tavis: joining next time for a conversation with the legendary opera star jessye norman on her latest high-performance. >> every community has a martin luther king boulevard, this is a cornerstone we all know. this is a place where wal-mart comes together with your community to make everyday
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